Let’s face it, being a teen is tough.  Your high school years can be a test of your decision-making; a balancing act between friends and school, fun and responsibility, your new-found independence and the fact that you still aren’t an adult.  Many teens will make enough poor choices for decades of stories at their high school reunions, but a word of caution – when it comes to poor decisions, the line between benign and life-changing can be thin and unpredictable.

You see, some choices can derail all you’ve been working toward. It happened to Avery. Admittedly 20 years later as he looks back, he sees exactly where he took the wrong path, and denied himself a chance to walk across the stage in front of his mom and the rest of his family – accepting that quintessential rite of passage, his high school diploma. Several years later, his choices would deny him the chance to ever walk across a stage.

Avery’s life has not been easy, but it’s easily inspiring. He’ll tell you about the poor choices in friends he made growing up, how he chose to be involved with drugs instead of going to class. But also, how he chooses to use his story to help others – serving as proof that your past decisions do not define you or your character.

In everyone’s lives, there are turning points, moments that stand out where you contemplate your future and the life you’ve built, the decisions you’ve made. In Avery’s life, he had two. The day he was shot in the back while running from a carjacker – instantly paralyzed – and when he had children.

Avery emotionally and frankly recalls the night he was shot, and exactly how it felt. He remembers waking up in the hospital, all the people he’d called friends – gone. It was a feeling he’ll never forget, but one that serves as a lesson in friendship.  Over the next several years, as he continued raising his family from a wheelchair, he shared the lessons he’d learned with his children – responsibility, friendship and right from wrong. But there is one more lesson he wants to teach them – although until about a year ago he wasn’t sure yet how – the importance of an education. Avery is a straight talker, true to himself and others. It would be hypocritical to tell your children how important it is to do well in school when you dropped out. So what did he do? He set out to make a new choice.

Avery enrolled in The Excel Center, a public high school run by Goodwill Industries of Arkansas, created solely for adults working toward their high school diplomas. Day after day, Avery goes to class, absorbing lessons in math, science and English. Now, he can not only teach his children the importance of an education, but what it means to be a role model – to persevere.

Avery’s high school class will celebrate their 20th reunion this year, and he hopes to do more than tell stories of the past. He hopes to have his diploma, like his classmates. His mother passed away before she could see him graduate, but he knows she’s already proud of him.